Becoming an Infant Caregiver: Three Profiles of Personal and Professional Growth

By Recchia, Susan L.; Loizou, Eleni | Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Spring-Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Becoming an Infant Caregiver: Three Profiles of Personal and Professional Growth


Recchia, Susan L., Loizou, Eleni, Journal of Research in Childhood Education


This study focused on the first year process of personal and professional growth for three student-caregivers as they began working with infants and families in child care. Qualitative case study analyses of the participants' first-semester notebooks and second-semester interviews revealed universal and individual themes that support and expand on previous findings, informing our understanding of the experiences of new infant/toddler caregivers. Findings from this study suggest that new infant caregivers experience many of the same thoughts and feelings that have been documented in the literature on new teachers. These new infant caregivers were concerned about their relationships with children, their interactions with parents, and their need for support from their environment; in addition, they were concerned with learning the routines and procedures of the classroom and developing a sense of themselves as caregivers. However, there are also some distinct differences in the nature and structure of work with infants and families that posed special challenges for these novice infant caregivers. Among them were adjusting to the physical and emotional intensity of nurturing such very young children, the need for new practical and theoretical knowledge about working with infants and families in the earliest years, the challenge of setting limits for children who are so young and nonverbal, and the need for ongoing collaboration and community building as they worked with others to provide continuity of care. Findings are discussed with reference to implications for caregiver training and suggestions for future research.

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Research on the process of becoming a new teacher has informed our understanding of how to train and support professionals as they enter the field. Most studies, however, focus on teachers who work with elementary school children. Few researchers have looked at the process of becoming an infant caregiver. As greater numbers of infants and toddlers are being cared for in groups, teachers are moving from preschool and kindergarten classrooms into infant classrooms. These teachers are faced with a variety of issues that they must negotiate with little background or preparation.

The researchers' aim in this study was to carefully examine the personal and professional growth of three student caregivers during their first year working with infants and families in child care. Through this examination, they hoped to gain insight into the unique issues faced by new practitioners in the field of infant/toddler care and education, thus informing teacher preparation and teacher practice.

The review that follows offers a brief description of the literature, describing: 1) the most important qualities of a competent infant caregiver, 2) the increased significance of relationships and collaboration when working with very young children and their families, and 3) the emotional process that new teachers go through in their beginning stages of professional development. The researchers will describe how each of these areas contributes to a more integrated understanding of the experiences faced by new infant caregivers.

The Qualities of a Competent Infant Caregiver

New teachers and caregivers come to the teaching profession with a variety of perspectives and backgrounds. They bring ideas that emerge from their own rearing, culture, family experiences, and values (Balaban, 1992), and the quality of care they offer ultimately depends on their personal and professional attributes (Chick, 1996).

Although different teaching styles may be equally effective (Hamilton, 1994), certain characteristics of very young children must be taken into account when working with infants and toddlers. Those who make the transition from elementary or preschool teacher to infant caregiver are often impressed by the differences they encounter, such as how babies communicate, and that caregivers need to be very observant, provide more intimate contact, and offer a lot of physical support to the children (Keenan, 1997, 1998).

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